Monday, October 3, 2022

Falcons’ Marcus Mariota reveals slide plan

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Marcus Mariota has a plan for how often he will slip while running this season. The Atlanta Falcons’ QB1 got his share of hits during the 27-26 Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

These hits raised questions about the amount of punishment Mariota can and should take. The 222-pounder is a dual-threat quarterback whose ability to take yards with his legs is arguably more important than his arm strength and accuracy.

If Mariota runs, he’ll have to protect himself or the Falcons will call rookie Desmond Ridder sooner than expected. But instead of preaching caution, Mariota has outlined a simple plan for when to choose between sliding and fighting for extra yardage.

The central part of Mariota’s plan is to continue as he has done so far. He stressed the importance of his competitive nature and player history, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein:

Mariota certainly held her own against the Saints. The 28-year-old ran the ball 12 times for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Those rushing attempts earned him the 14th rushing score of his pro career, but they also resulted in a critical turnover when Mariota fumbled after being hit by Marcus Maye in the third quarter. Maye’s fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu recovered, ending a Falcons drive that appeared to end in at least six points.

Though the Saints didn’t capitalize on the takeaway, the Falcons were in the red zone with a 23-10 lead when the ball was struck loose. Another touchdown at that point would likely have sealed the game.

Mariota conceded that he might have made a better decision and gone into hiding, but he also made it clear he won’t start in a “Careful” Path:

Mariota’s defiant attitude is both a cause for concern and optimism for the Falcons. The concern stems from the real risk of the starting quarterback injuring himself on a hit that he could have avoided by sliding rather than staying upright.

Luckily, any concerns along those lines can be alleviated by Mariota’s willingness to run, which leads to a redesigned offense.

It didn’t take long for Mariota to transform the look and personality of the Atlanta offense. His on-the-ground flair added the element of unpredictability that was missing when the generally static Matt Ryan called the pocket home.

Keeping an eye on defense is an obvious advantage anywhere on the field, but it counts the most in short-yard and goal-line situations. Teams must play runs first as that is the shortest route to the end zone, but a quarterback who can run gives opponents too many potential threats to consider and stop.

The Saints found this out the hard way when Mariota opened his account for the Falcons go across from the two-yard line:

With two tight ends and two running backs on the field, including Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Saints were understandably already busy with players other than Mariota.

In moments like these, his rushing skills will make all the difference. Once running Mariota becomes the focus of a defense, Patterson, Pitts and rookie wide receiver Drake London can dominate.

It’s more than just a theory based on how the Falcons’ offense fared during the opening game, even in a loss. Patterson and Mariota accounted for 192 of the 201 yards the team put on the ground while London clinched five catches for 74 yards.

Falcons Beat reporter Tori McElhaney also noticed changes in the game plan: “With Mariota in the middle and not Matt Ryan, the offensive would operate in a different fold. Smith would be able to open the playbook in a way he hadn’t been able to before. And what we saw was an attack that showed a lot of different looks, pre-snap moves and – of course – RPOs.”

Mariota opens doors to the Falcons in a schematic sense due to what he brings to the table as a runner. Ironically, that same bonus stat could ruin offense if Mariota takes too many hits.

It’s more than just a theory based on how the Falcons’ offense fared during the opening game, even in a loss. Patterson and Mariota accounted for 192 of the 201 yards the team put on the ground while London clinched five catches for 74 yards.



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